your own colt
Problems, part 2
Actors, part 3
Cold Backed Horse
Sense, Horse Sense
to Work Carefully
your "Good Stuff"
Eyes on the Prize
the Unexpected, 1
the Unexpected, 2
a Better Color?
of the Herd
A Good Night’s
Most of us don’t think too much about how well our
horses sleep. It’s common knowledge that horses can
nap standing up, and as the ones who have to groom off all
the mud and dust when our horses choose to lay down, we tend
to wish they never did. But in order for our horses to be
healthy both physically and mentally, they need to develop
an appropriate sleep routine, just like us.
Similarly to humans, horses have two levels of sleep – slow
wave sleep (SWS) and paradoxial sleep (PS). In horses, SWS
is achieved when they nap standing up. Like most prey animals,
who’s survival depends on being prepared to flee predators
at any moment, the horse has a “stay apparatus.” This
is a system of tendons and ligaments that hold the horse
in the standing position even when his muscles relax in sleep.
Horses can spend up to 15 hours a day in standing rest, but
for complete relaxation – the paradoxical sleep – he
needs to lie down on his side. It is during the PS phase
of sleep that the horse’s body truly relaxes. Most
horses (depending on age, physical limitations and comfort
level) will sleep for anywhere from 15 minutes to several
hours in this deep sleep.
A horse must feel comfortable and secure enough to lay
down to sleep. He also needs to have an inviting bed. Surprisingly,
a deeply bedded stall is not always the preferred arrangement.
Studies have shown that feral horses, and those who live
in herd situation on pasture, get the most quality sleep
time. In a herd situation, one or two horses routinely stand
sentinel, while the rest repose. Also, in a pasture or wild
situation, the horse can choose his own comfortable bed – often
a soft dusty spot or thick grass. The horse that is locked
in his stall may make his owner feel safe, but to the horse
it is an isolation box where he can not see what is approaching.
Horses that are confined to small areas that have hard footing
such as a graveled paddock, will not be as likely to lie
down either. Sometimes boarding stable situations where the
horse does not have a choice of companions can be limiting
too – an aggressive neighbor is not going to reassure
Many of our horses have become accustomed to living in
domestic situations and so they sleep regularly even if they
are alone, but to encourage our horse to get the deeper levels
of sleep we need to assess the horse’s environment.
Provide a soft, cushy place to lie down, preferably somewhere
the horse can see out. One study has shown that horses lie
down longer if bedded in straw than in shavings, but I suspect
that it has more to do with the deepness of the shavings.
I had this personally pointed out to me recently by my own
gelding. After a long day at a show, I put a bale of shavings
into his stall. He didn’t even wait for me to spread
the shavings around, but climbed up on the middle of the
pile, lay down and went to sleep! Since the rest of his stall
and pen are the typical hard graveled ground, he made it
quite obvious what he needed.
Another reason that a horse might not lie down often enough
is the fear or lack of ability to get back up. Older horses
and those with back or hind leg problems such as arthritis
may be reluctant to lie down at all.
Some horses will lie down and sleep while we are watching
but many won’t. How do you know if your horse is getting
some good sleep time? Often our only signs are the shavings
or dirt in their manes and on their backs. Horses that are
not sleeping enough might be stressed and fatigued, and appear
to fall so deeply asleep while standing that they start to
fall. These same horses might seem to lack endurance when
they are working, or seem distracted instead of paying attention.
While it is not such a common problem that we want to excuse
training problems for it, being aware of our horse’s
need for sleep, and providing him with an appropriate and
comfortable place to rest, can definitely make a difference
in his attitude and performance.
Eraldi of Eraldi Training in Potter Valley, trains horses
and riders of all ages. She specializes in Pleasure,
Showmanship and Equitation events. She can be contacted
at 707-743-1337, or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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